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Judge appoints receiver to manage Shepherd Memorial Park

Gary McDowell, who has almost 50 years experience in the funeral and cemetery business, testifies about his background during a hearing on Wednesday. Gary McDowell, who has almost 50 years experience in the funeral and cemetery business, testifies about his background during a hearing on Wednesday.

BREVARD — Dealing another courtroom setback for the Shepherd family funeral and cemetery business, a judge on Wednesday appointed a receiver to take over management of Shepherd Memorial Park and directly ordered the current owners and managers to stay away.

Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope of Asheville, who is presiding over the legal action by the North Carolina Cemetery Commission against the 68-year-old cemetery, appointed Gary McDowell in charge of the entire operation — upkeep and maintenance, digging and closing new graves, looking into and resolving a series of complaints, taking inventory of the assets and liabilities and submitting required reports to state regulators.
“You’re taking over everything,” Pope told McDowell during the hearing at the Transylvania County Courthouse. “There’s nothing that’s going to be withheld at all. You’ll have access to everything” and Shepherd employees will have control of nothing. “It’s in your total control.”
McDowell, who has been in the funeral and cemetery business for 48 years in Western North Carolina, is a licensed funeral director who worked for many years for a funeral home in Canton before becoming general manager of Asheville Vault Service, where he worked closely providing vaults for Tom Shepherd, the third generation owner of Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors who died last New Year’s Eve. He left Asheville Vault Service to buy a competitor, running the company from 2005 to 2019, when he retired. He has worked at the Western North Carolina Veterans Cemetery since then.
Hendersonville attorney Sharon Alexander, whom the Cemetery Commission retained to argue the case in court, asked McDowell whether he had the time and willingness to manage Shepherd Memorial Park. He responded that he did.
When Michael Edney, who represents the Shepherd funeral businesses, asked McDowell whether he had experience filing records with the state, he said he did not but would bring on help to comply with the requirements.
Both attorneys and Judge Pope agreed that McDowell needed to be present for a hearing by late June to report on the condition of the cemetery and on his actions to resolve the complaints that resulted in the Cemetery Commission’s action to relieve Shepherd of control. Pope told McDowell it would be up to him to contact the family members who had complained.
“I’d like to have an opportunity to see the complaints, see what they were and determine the severity,” he said. He said he could get a handle on the nature and magnitude and would need “probably not more than a week to start contacting people and see if anything’s been addressed and see what I could do to address those concerns.”
Under Judge Pope’s order, McDowell would be paid $50 an hour and would have authorization to hire the help needed for cemetery operations. The money to pay all costs during the receivership comes from the business’s assets and receipts.
Responding to the judge’s question, Edney said he agreed with everything in the order but would reserve the right to challenge the findings of fact in any other appeals of state regulatory orders involving the cemetery or funeral home.